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Ben Yomen, 1911-2011
posted June 6, 2011

imageBen Yomen Miller, who under the pen name Ben Yomen became one of one of the most productive labor cartoonists of the mid-20th Century and a cartoonist that placed work into hundreds of publications both mainstream and obscure, died on January 10 in his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 99 years old.

Yomen was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His family moved from Massachusetts to Michigan when he was four years old. Yomen developed a passion for art as a child by copying from newspaper strips of the day, and was trained at Cass Tech High School and the Wicker School Of Fine Art, both in Detroit. His first sale was as a student to a humor magazine called College Life. In 1930 he went to New York to find work as a cartoonist or as an artist but failed, returning home on a bus ticket he was given in exchange for painting an office.

The artist was one of dozens arrested at the infamous Ford Hunger March Of 1932. He had arrived at the event in order to sketch some of the participants. His arrest and his proximity to the death of laborers involved in the March radicalized the young artist, and a few years later he returned to New York to find his fortune, taking on a variety of jobs to keep his head afloat, starting with a gig at Max Fleischer Studios. Yomen used a job teaching with the WPA to make ends meet. As those program slowly died out at the end of the decade, he slowly transitioned into freelancing cartooning. His clients at the time included Milady and Judge. He also painted and exhibited those works along with lithographs at New York area galleries.

He was drafted in 1943 but classified as 4-F.

Yomen may be best known as the creator of "Congressman Dripp," a lightning-rod style moronic, corrupt character that opposed the rights of labor and women. Dripp was a patriotic creation, representative of those politicians Yomen felt were weak on Adolf Hitler. Yomen placed cartoons featuring Dripp in a variety of magazines and was syndicated from 1943 to 1955 to over 200 union-friendly publications through Federated Press, the syndicate with which he hard partnered since 1939. He was voted "most popular labor cartoonist" in an AFL-CIO poll in 1943, partly because of the Federated work that preceded Dripp but also because of the work he picked up in and around those more formal obligations.

A now-married Yomen returned to Detroit in 1945, where he became art director of the UAW's Ammunition and worked in the union's Education Department. He also actively showed his work in Michigan art galleries whenever possible. He was briefly the art director for a grocery chain in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, Yomen's work also encompassed a pro racial-integration stance at a time when that wasn't exactly agreed upon by everyone, either. He had actually been doing cartoons sensitive to national issues on race since the late 1930s, in part spurred on by personal experience traveling in the south. His obituary in local Michigan media indicated he was still concerns with permutations of modern labor issues such as the outsourcing of jobs out of the region and overseas.

In 1980 he went to work for the union publication Solidarity and developed his second recurring feature, Senator Rightwing. In 1994, he produced a number of campaign cartoons for that year's gubernatorial campaign.

In 1999 an exhibit of Yomen's cartoons called "Artist For The Worker" went up at a University of Michigan graduate library. Yomen and his son, Bob Miller, maneuvered through the publication stage a compilation of the elder's works called In Labor's Corner in 2005. They were his first publications since the 1940s, which saw the release of a cartoon anthology named Needles And Pins (1941) and a children's book called Roberto The Mexican Boy (1947).

He was a member of three unions during his professional lifetime: The Cartoonists Guild, The United American Artists, The Newspaper Guild of New York.

Ben Yomen Miller is survived by a wife of 75 years, Rose; two sons, two grandsons and two great-granddaughters. A memorial service is likely to be held in March.